Payment Methods

Paying City Hall, At The Kiosk And Beyond

You can’t fight city hall, goes the saying, but there are new ways to pay city hall.

News came earlier this month that Chicago’s finance department is enhancing its payment services in a multi-part initiative rolling out this year.

The department is debuting an online platform that will let the city’s residents and businesses pay fines and fees owed to the city.  The city also will boost the number of payment kiosks around the city, bringing the count to more than 70, located at, for example, libraries and police stations.

The goal is to make it easier for the underbanked or unbanked to make payments.

The first stages of the rollout include mobile-friendly sites that allow for payment of parking and moving violations. Later in the year, an option to pay utility bills online will be introduced. Residents will be able to initiate payments from their phones, sans credit card, and finish the transactions at the kiosk.

Powering that transition, both online and at kiosk components, is CityBase, a GovTech company that focuses on self-service payment technology for state and local governments.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Michael Duffy, CEO of CityBase, said the company strives to bring some of the remaining analog aspects of government into the digital realm.

Payments to government entities are, of course, marked by options as far-flung as in-person/cashier transactions, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, kiosks, mobile and (inevitably) paper checks.

CityBase, said the executive, looks to take those myriad options and thread them through a single platform and then, in turn, offer consumers multiple, tech-driven channels.

“It is more cost-effective for the city to administer” services in this way, he told PYMNTS, “and the city has more control over the user experience. We are ensuring a level of consistency that is uncommon today,” he said. He emphasized the “session transfer,” where payments can be started on one conduit and finished at another. Users  of the online platform can also see all of their debt obligations across agencies in one place after authenticating themselves into their “dot gov” account.

While it may be true that in consumer interactions with the private sector there’s a lower tolerance for friction with transactions — especially where payments technology is quick to innovate — Duffy stated that with the government “you have what is, in effect, a compulsory interaction. So, there is a much higher tolerance for friction. There is one official counterparty, and you have to interact with them in some manner or another.”

The friction is dual-sided. The longer it takes a constituent to make a payment, the longer it takes a government agency to collect revenue. Duffy noted that Chicago’s city government is comprised of as many as four dozen agencies and departments, many of which run their own software and systems.

That friction, of course, needs alleviation. In-person transactions, he said, account for 1.7 million of the five million payments made to the city annually, he said. And, he added, 30 percent of the city’s population makes payments exclusively in cash, not all that uncommon for large municipalities or utilities.

A high-volume agency may have more revenue in place with which to embrace new payments technology, he said.

Yet regardless of the agency, each transaction must satisfy imperatives. “You need to provide the constituent with enough information that translates into confidence that completing a task” — in this case, making a clearly defined payment in a clearly defined timeframe — “will satisfy their needs” and also, in this case, satisfy a debt.

Thus, agencies mired in paper have to make the digital leap of faith. To help do that, he said, CityBase helps them migrate to new payment methods in parallel with the older systems in place.

The kiosk-focused part of the 2018 initiative offers additional conveniences for people who pay in person, said the executive, with 24-hour availability at police stations in the city. The kiosk locations ensure that 70 percent of constituents will be within two kilometers of a kiosk, he said, and 90 percent will be within three kilometers.

“The city is taking on a technology roadmap that we hope to transform the lives of our most challenged constituents,” said Duffy, “and their interactions with government.”

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